Saturday, 21 October 2017

BIOGRAPHY 6

NOTE:   I have decided to place, in serial form, reflections on my life, though not in chronological order. I will try to put something up each Saturday. The texts have existed for some time and are still in draft form. Whether they are of interest is not for me to say. I put them here because I think my life has been somewhat unusual in its own way.

MONTREAL 2001-2017 



      Since 2002 I have lived in Montreal in a Holy Cross Residence in the very heart of Montreal.


     I had a strong learning curve to pass through when I joined Development and Peace (D&P) especially entering at the top level as assistant director. There were tensions with the Union and my first concern was to develop a positive relationship. Because of my background in Latin America, I was also encouraged to participate in some activities with our partners there, especially an assembly of partners organized in Bolivia. Development and Peace is part of a network of Catholic Institutions of International Cooperation (CIDSE) and, as part of that, I was sent to a meeting of the directors in Vienna. Also, D&P is a member of the world-wide CARITAS network – the largest network of response to international crises outside the United Nations. As such, I was able to make an unofficial present at a the world meeting of Caritas leadership in Rome, since I was already in the city for another reason, and  to participate in a formal gathering of Caritas Latin America where I was a member of a panel along with partners in several other countries. Later, I was invited to a smaller, low-key meeting in Mexico to discuss a proposal to unite all the Caritas members in the Americas under one umbrella. (I was not favourable.) I supported a D&P delegation of members to a World Social Forum in Brazil and took on the task of accompanying a similar delegation to the first World Social Forum held outside Brazil, in India. Later on, I was invited to the World Social Forum in Dakar, Senegal by the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians (EATWOT).  

     After less than two years at D&P, the director resigned and I was asked to take over as acting director. Shortly after that we were rocked by the tsunami in Indonesia on the day after Christmas. Development and Peace had a long history with this precise area of Indonesia and so we were asked to coordinate the world-wide effort of Caritas to respond. Jess Augustin, Asian Director for D&P, did a magnificent job. I remember driving back to Montreal after a Christmas visit with my family in Ontario and having to pull over because my cell phone rang. It was the president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, who wanted to discuss our response to the tsunami. I explained a bit of what was happening at that point and then he announced that there would be a special collection in all the Catholic parishes in Canada to support our effort. What a moment! That collection raised 12 million dollars and that was matched by the Canadian government. It was humbling, to say the least.
  
      In the beginning I traveled back and forth each day to work at Development and Peace. When that ended in 2005 I was just turning 65. It occurred to me that I knew very little of Montreal at that point. Most of my time moving around the city had been in the subway! So, I thought I might stay on for a while to get to know more. Now, in 2017, I can say that I have never lived at the same address, or even in any city, for as long as where I am now. Montreal has, in many ways, become my city.

An alleyway in my neighbourhood
     For the first months after leaving D&P, I read Quebec literature, visited some of the museums, went to cinemas presenting Quebec films. I took in the street scenes at the summer festivals. Some of this was downtown but also in my own neighbourhood.

Gay village - near Le Havre
     My first commitment to volunteer work was at Le Havre, a listening centre in downtown Montreal that receives telephone calls or also personal visits from people who feel the need to talk to someone with a listening ear. I have been with them now for about 12 years and served twice on their Board.

At this point I was asked whether I would like to attend an assembly designed to create a new political entity on the Left in Quebec. I agreed enthusiastically and ended up being part of the formation of what is now Québec solidaire. They have three members in the National Assembly of Quebec. Over the years I have always supported this combination of movement-political party.

Shortly after leaving D&P, Etienne de Jong visited Montreal. He was Executive Director of Pax Christi International with its headquarters in Belgium. He made an annual visit to Montreal to seek funds from various Religious Congregations and also the support of D&P. He invited Sister Gisèle Turcot and myself to supper in Old Montreal and laid out his dream that a Pax Christi group be established in Montreal. Gisèle who had headed a Religious Congregation in Montreal, took this to heart and I accompanied her for several years afterwards in getting the group off the ground. We met regularly, tried to explain to prospective members what Pax Christi is about and organized events on peacemaking, arms trade and violence in Africa and Latin America. As small group of us even went to the United Nations for a week-long session on the proposed treaty on Small Arms Trade that was eventually passed by the General Assembly and is currently part of customary international law.

     For a number of years, I had been aware of the Latin American Agenda, published yearly with short articles by Latin American theologians. I found out that both the English and French versions, published out of Montreal, were being abandoned and so I contacted the offices here (that of Social Justice Connexions and of CEDHAL – Latin American Human Rights – and offered to pick up the work. The director the project, José Maria Vigil, in Panama was agreeable and so for about 7 years I was responsible for the printing and distribution of the Agenda in North America. (The French version only lasted a year or two because we lost our translator.) I also translated some of the articles into English. In the meantime, José Maria also put me on to a project of the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians (EATWOT) to publish a series of 5 books on inter-religious theology. I became responsible for English translations, printing and distribution. To facilitate this I set up a small publishing entity called Dunamis Press. I also contributed to some of José Maria’s publishing ventures such as a special tribute to Jon Sobrino after the Vatican prohibited him from teaching theology. (That collaborative project was conceived, the authors contacted, the articles translated, the resulting book assembled,printed and distributed - all in one month: a world record!)  I also published a novel on my experience in Peru, The Day It Rained.  On leaving D&P, Novalis had contacted me about the possibility of publishing a book. In the end, I wrote Dealing with Diversity. At the very last minute they rejected my text – a story in itself - and so I published it through Dunamis. So, I think it safe to say that I always had something to do during my spare movements.

     On leaving D&P, I was asked to represent Holy Cross at a social justice network (ROJEP) founded about the same time as KAIROS with a view to attending to the reality of Quebec.  Like KAIROS, it is an ecumenical project funded by about 40 churches and church-related institutions but without staff other than one person for two or three days a week. It`s main activity consists of providing formation for the member delegates as well as regular electronic news updates on activities of the member institutions or of interest to the members. One of the first issues to be faced, when I joined the Coordinating Committee was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission established by the Federal government to examine the impact of over 100 years of residential schools on Indigenous peoples in Canada. Some members of ROJEP wanted participate in the session that would be held in Montreal. Over 2000 people attended for most of a week. I was able to address one large session on behalf of a list of Church-related institutions in Montreal and to offer our apologies and solidarity. A solidarity committee was then established to advise the Coordinating Committee of ROJEP on this and related issues. With time the committee developed a Quebec version of the Blanket Exercise prepared by KAIROS. It has been presented in many different venues around Quebec.

     In 2012 I also became an active member of the coordinating committee of the Regroupement justice environnement et paix of the Holy Cross Sisters in Montreal. This brought together many nuns who had worked outside Canada (in Latin America, Africa or Asia) as well as their associates, friends and a few Holy Cross men. We organized two full-day workshops each year with invited animators. The people who attend are very committed in spite of their often-advanced age. I was also asked to join the staff of the Holy Cross International Justice Office located at St. Mary’s College in Indiana, USA. This Office attempts to encourage collaboration on justice issues between the men and women of four Congregations of the Holy Cross Family. The executive meets once a year for several days and consists of a member from the leadership of each Congregation as well as the person designated to animate justice work in each Congregation. After some initial confusion it was clarified that I was there as a resource person since I had no official appointment by our General Administration.

     In 2010, North America, and in fact many countries of the world, were rocked by the emergence of the Occupy movement. In Montreal this initially took the form of a take-over of a small park in the heart of the financial district of the city, with the stock exchange on one side and the World Trade Centre offices on the other. They remained there for a month and established a small village with constant discussion groups around the issues of the 99% of the population of the world faced with the 1% who control most of the strings of the economy and government. Eventually they were removed forcibly by the police. At that point, after some further assemblies, it was decided that we should try to establish groups throughout the city. At about this point, I was asked to give a talk on Occupy Montreal in my neighbourhood. At the end of the evening, much to the surprise of the organizers, I asked if anyone was interested in forming a group in our neighbourhood. That was the beginning of the group called Occupy the Heart of the Island (Occupons le Coeur de l’Isle). Our group played a significant role in continuing the presence of the Occupy movement in Montreal for the following two years. Several of our activities took place at Molson Park, a green area on the grounds of what had been the family mansion of the Molson family many years earlier. For three years we occupied the park for a weekend, organized workshops and assemblies to discuss public issues and managed to attract quite a number of people. We also organized a couple of all-candidates debates during provincial elections.

Srudent strike
   The year following the Occupy Movement was marked by a massive public outbreak of student mobilization against hikes in tuition in educational institutions in Quebec. Tens of thousands of people participated in Montreal alone. One march claimed a hundred thousand participants. The net result was the defeat of the Liberal government in an election called specifically to counter the student protesters. Promises were made by the incoming government that tuitions would not rise, though they were kept only in part. I participated in many of these events as part of a group called Têtes blanches, carré rouge, (White heads, red patches). The red patch was a symbol worn by those who supported the students’ demands. The white heads referred to the fact that we were all elderly. We found out later that this was the first student protest anywhere in the world that had the support of a similar group.

     Toward the end of the student mobilizations, the city passed a by-law forbidding any public gathering of more than six people. This provoked an immediate outcry as it violated freedom of speech guaranteed by both the Canadian and Quebec Charter of Rights. The outcry took a distinctive form: people gathered at 8 pm at major intersections in their neighbourhoods to bang on pots!  Thousands of citizens across Montreal did this every night for a month.

     On the first anniversary of the student mobilization a march was planned for downtown in the evening. At that point the police were surrounded the march and arrest everyone indiscriminately.  Over 3,000 people were arrested during that night and the previous weeks, myself among them. However, after a few months, the mayor withdrew all charges.  Still, the arrests had their chilling effect and the protests stopped at that point.

     Following on the heels of the student movement came Idle No More. Indigenous people, especially youth across Canada organized many events to draw attention to their needs. I participated in some of these. And became more familiar with the Indigenous peoples living in or near Montreal: Mohawk, Algonquin, Innu, Atikamekw and Innuit in particular.

     Between 2012-2015 I was asked to sit on the Council of my English Canadian Region of Holy Cross as we tried to sort out our future. We are a very small number of men, all over 70 and with 6 younger men at this point in charge of all of our pastoral work. Our goal as a Council was to support our Superior as he shepherded us through a major transition. Very unfortunately, the effort took a tremendous toll in the Superior and he died only a couple of months after finishing his term in 2015.

     Then, in 2015, the question arose among some of the people who had been active in all these movements about holding a World Social Forum in Montreal.  Also, the coordinating committee of ROJEP accepted to host a World Forum on Theology and Liberation during and in conjunction with the World Social Forum in Montreal. I was involved with both groups and something of a go-between among them. Also, the Holy Cross International Justice Office wanted to organize the presence of Maxima Acuña from Peru at the Social Forum and I was asked to coordinate the program for her presence. That put me in touch with a series of institutions in Montreal that were planning a program during the Social Forum on the impact of Canadian mining companies on local communities in Quebec and Latin America. (It must be remembered that 70 of all mining companies in the world are registered and have head offices in Canada.

     I managed to hold my head above water until just a few days before the opening of the two Forums. Then Maxima canceled her visit for health reasons and I fell apart. I managed to participate in both world forums but had to cancel all my activities during the following year – that is to say until this year, 2017. Now, in the Fall of 2017, I am beginning to take up once again a few of my commitments, but on a more limited scale.  After all, I am now 77 and my energy is somewhat depleted. Nevertheless, I keep up my Holy Cross commitments in the animation of justice issues in my Region and with the International Office; I continue to volunteer at the listening centre and I do a bit of writing and speaking on occasion. I also continue to sit on the board of Terre sacrée and the Regroupement.  It’s more than enough.

     I look back with some stupefaction that, since the age of 62, I have been catapulted into so many moments that have marked our national life. Never could I have imagined that coming to Montreal would entail involvement in all these major events in Canada and elsewhere. Montreal has been very good to me; has welcomed me into its circles: I think of the Centre justice et foi of the Jesuits, ROJEP and its many member organizations, the Groupe de théologie contexuale (Contextual Theology Group) with which I collaborated for about 10 years and that produced Le territoire, c’est nous, published last year by Novalis. Occupons, the student revolt and Têtes blanches…, Idle No More. I would never have been part of any of these were it not for the offer of a job at D&P and then the decision to stay on … for a while!
I am grateful, I am blessed.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

BIOGRAPHY 5



NOTE:   I have decided to place, in serial form, reflections on my life, though not in chronological order. I will try to put something up each Saturday. The texts have existed for some time and are still in draft form. Whether they are of interest is not for me to say. I put them here because I think my life has been somewhat unusual in its own way.

 Toronto (1973-1980) 
     
     Toronto has been my home on three occasions: 1966-1969, 1973-1980, 1990-1995. The first period represents my first assignment as a priest: study philosophy at St. Michael’s College. Out of that came a Master’s degree and, from there, two years teaching at St. Thomas University in Fredericton. It was also my first time in Canada since 1957. A lot had happened in the world since then: from Blue Swede Shoes to the Yellow Submarine, from Jim Crowe to Martin Luther King, from Vatican I to Vatican II. My superior soon found me a parish in North West Toronto where I could get some pastoral experience and also free room and board in exchange. These were not years when our Holy Cross group had money! Initially, the parish needed someone who could say Mass and preach in Italian. So, I was the designated “Italian” for a while. Meanwhile the courses were interesting and the times were exciting. It was good to be back in Canada, much closer to my family and testing my wings as a “preacher.” During the summer of 1968 I ended up helping out evenings at a youth drop-in centre in the Yorkville-Avenue Road area – thanks to the Youth Corps program in the diocese at that point. This was the summer of the great hippy invasion in that area and, while I don’t think I had any impact on the youth there, it made a great impression on me – other than a case of police harassment where I was called to testify in court.  At the end of the summer I decided to move out of the parish (while continuing to say Masses on weekends) and moved into a student coop. Part of the reason for the shift in residence was that I had been involved in a fairly serious car accident on my way back from our Holy Cross Assembly in St. John, N.B. at the beginning of the summer. I seemed fine when I arrived back in Toronto but developed a serious case of what I can only call lethargy shortly afterward. For weeks I could not move out of bed – at all. By mid-August I had come out of that daze but was irritable and angry. The move out of the parish was a result of my unfocused anger. Looking back, I can see it as a result of the concussion but at the time I had no idea. Not much attention was paid to concussions in those days. If you remember, this was the second one, the first being a fall from the front porch when I was a pre-schooler.
     The coop, as it turned out, was a news-breaker: Rochdale. Just opened, it turned wild and notorious, although the corner where I lived with a few other students on the 9th floor was quite peaceful. We lived and worked together very well and I established some enduring friendships with other students in the building. On the other hand, I had to wind my way around the drugs, the hippies and the bikers. At the end of the Spring semester took off on a coast-to-coast camping trip with two other Holy Cross priests with whom I had been assigned to Fredericton that Fall. I taught two years and then asked to finish off my graduate studies – in Ottawa. Bad choice!
     The time at Rochdale had a radicalizing effect on me so that when I arrived in Fredericton my courses in introductory philosophy and in ethics attracted some attention. It was also the time of huge anti-Vietnam Was protests in the United States and virulent independence activity in Quebec. The latter eventually led to a declaration of martial law in Quebec under the War Measures Act. I made a name for myself as an outspoken protester. I also had a complicity with a group of students initially trying to work with children in a community near the city. When it turned out that the community did not have access to drinking water, we organized a campaign with them and eventually they had their water system. That led to a visit from the Band Chief of Red Bank Micmac Reserve inquiring about how they could get a water system. I referred them to my cousin at the military camp nearby. He was an engineer specialized in water systems. Eventually, he tells me, it totally changed his career in public service. With Mario Carota, I also helped with the training of some 200 students for a summer program of community animation throughout New Brunswick. Finally, we gathered a group of students and other locals into an intentional community that met on a regular basis for several years. Some of these still keep in touch with each other and we are hoping for a reunion here in Montreal at the beginning of November.
     The second period in Toronto came after I gave up on my studies at the University of Ottawa in the doctoral program. This time the crisis was provoked by a rape. It was traumatic and I did not know enough to try to get help. Instead, I lived with a lot of guilt as if it were my fault. It left me disoriented for a long time afterward. (There were a couple of other sexual assaults later on. I was slow to learn how to spot the signs and mobilize resistance on the spot.) Saying no only worked in one case. In the Fall of 1973, I left Ottawa, abandoned my studies and moved into a small residence Holy Cross had established in east Toronto. I moved from doctoral studies to cleaning offices as Queen’s Park for six months and then driving taxi for another six months before accepting to work in the office of what came to be called Connexions, a publication that promoted the work of grassroots groups across Canada with funding from the World Council of Churches.
     Just days after arriving in Toronto a military coup in Chile deposed Salvador Allende and put Augusto Pinochet in charge. One of his first moves was to send a military detachment to the school where his son studied – a school run by Holy Cross Fathers. The superior refused to move out of his office and a stand-off took place. Nevertheless, the school was effectively run by the military for several years. Later I received a request to welcome a Chilean refugee into our house. He was a fine young man but the UN Refugee Service refused to recognize him and he was deported, fortunately to Spain. There followed a Guatemalan labour leader, who decided after some months to return to Guatemala regardless of the risks. Finally, we hosted a Japanese man on an exchange program between his municipal government and the City of Toronto. In this time I got to know Fran Arbour of the Inter-Church Committee on Human Rights in Latin America (ICCRLA) and her eventual partner, Bob Carty, who became a producer of CBC’s Sunday Morning program.
     Shortly after arriving back in Toronto Cesar Chavez and the farmworkers in California organized a boycott of California grapes. A meeting of clergy and laypeople was held and we decided to arrange a meeting with the president of Dominion stores, one of the larger chains. He refused. We went anyway and sat in his office. Finally, the police came and dragged us out. In the group were prominent clergymen of several denominations in Toronto including the Secretary General of the Canadian Council of Churches. We ended up on the sidewalk and decided to stay on till he met us. A couple of days later his limousine drew up to the door and I threw myself in front of the car. It screeched to a halt and the CEO got out and rushed into the building. Later we tried to meet with the President of another chain, Loblaws. In that case he came out into the foyer and without any introductions gave us a severe tongue-lashing for even showing up. Eventually, of course, the farmworkers won their case.
     I worked only to have an income to support myself. My main interest was the life in and around the house where I was living. During that first year, the four of us made a great effort to get to know our neighbourhood and its needs. At the end of the year, the three priests I was living with all left. I found a group of young men and we started an “intentional Christian community” with several young men in our house in South Riverdale. By then I had made contact with one of the people I had met at Rochdale who had started a similar community in Parkdale west-end of Toronto. Together we found a few more groups and a Toronto Network of Intentional Christian Communities was born. All in all, we were able to pull together perhaps 35-40 people at various times. Before long we had a small publication, Shinaki, put on some events and developed a presence in the city. All of us were living and working in poor neighbourhoods and this marked our perspective. In our own house we often had the neighbours in for discussions and celebrations. The experience was not unlike that of the Basic Christian Communities in Latin America. In fact, a couple of Latin American Theologians came to visit us, among them José Comblin from Brazil, and one of them told me he had never seen anything like it in North America. A couple of the people in our Network were responsible for a small Catholic “mission” in a section of Toronto that had a very large Pilipino community. It held Sunday Mass at a United Church located in the middle of a Shopping Centre in Thorncliffe Park. When the priest left for a Sabbatical in France, I was asked to help out on weekends by the lay women, Brigid, who was responsible at that point for coordinating the pastoral work “mission.” My last couple of years in Toronto were filled with wonderful experiences with these people at Thorncliffe Park. Some of them even came to visit me in Peru later on.
     Len Desroches, one of the members of our Network, was able to buy other half of our row house and establish another intentional community. For a couple of years we had a wonderful interaction between the two houses. Then my Holy Cross group asked me to join a project they had for a residence in the Annex for students of theology. I spent one year there before convincing them to move to the house where I had been living, in South Riverdale, now called East Don I am told. So, I spent another year in there. The superior thought it would be a good idea if our students could have some pastoral experience so he talked to the bishop about taking responsibility for the local parish, St. Ann’s. In the Fall of 1979 the bishop agreed and the superior named me pastor. However, the bishop immediately objected that I was too political – I had, you remember, fasted in front of the local jail (the Don Jail) against the death penalty, confronted the President of Dominion Stores and had publicly supported the first venture of Bob Ray into provincial politics. (He later became the first NDP premier of Ontario and then leader of the Federal Liberal Party.) I had already resigned from my job with Connexions to take charge of the parish, so I was left in limbo. After three months of reflection, I asked for and was given permission to go to Peru. Peru was not entirely unknown to me. As responsible for Social Justice for the English Canadian Province of Holy Cross, I had visited Mexico, Dominica and Peru a year earlier. The focus on small base Christian communities in Peru appealed to me because of my experience in Toronto. So, off I went.

 “[H]e had accumulated enough memories to know that the world around him was continually being shaped by the world within him, just as everyone else’s experience of the world was shaped by his own memories and while all people were bound together by the common space they shared, their journeys through time were all different, which meant that each person lived in a slightly different world from everyone else.” (Paul Auster, 4 3 2 1, Chapter 3.4, page 9 (ibook), 2016)